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    The Misfits: Life in the New Gay Margins

    Since graduating from NYU's Cultural Reporting & Criticism and Portfolio programs in January 2004, I went to Dallas, Texas to do a six-month reporting fellowship at the Dallas Observer, and then to the Sundance Film Festival in January 2005 to cover the festival for Sundance's new daily paper published during the festival, the Sundance Daily Insider. Then back to New York, to stay put for a while.

    Gay men have traditionally been the creators, defenders, innovators, and dynamic users of culture. But many gay activists, concerned about ending discrimination, have declared that it's only in the bedroom where gays and lesbians differ from heterosexuals, and the claim has changed gay life. In his 1999 book The Trouble With Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life, Rutgers University professor Michael Warner explains that "from the homophile movement until recently, gay activism understood itself as an attempt to stave off the pathologization of gay life by the police, by the McCarthy inquest, by psychologists and psychiatrists, by politicians, by health and sanitation departments. Now we are faced with activists who see the normalization of queer life precisely as their role." "The Misfits" is not a referendum on whether normalization is good or bad; it's an investigation of a culture in flux. By most external considerations and in gay life, you can never underestimate their importance I fit squarely within gay norms but don't feel convinced by them. I say "convinced" because the pumped-up, vaguely clone-like look prevalent in gay life seems like a real put-on to me, an act intended to convince ourselves that those old gay stereotypes about effeminacy are just that: mere stereotypes. Given the history of discrimination against gays, the trend toward invulnerability is understandable, but it's also regrettable. No one wants to be oppressed, but the plain fact is that oppression made gay life invigorating and unique. I like being around other gay men, but sometimes I feel like I belong to a club I don't want to be a part of. As Susan Sontag writes in "Notes on 'Camp'" (1964), "To name a sensibility, to draw its contours and to recount its history, requires a deep sympathy modified by revulsion."

    Back to Claiborne Smith's portfolio


    Recent Work:
  • Dallas High School Expels Gay Student (Dallas Observer)
  • David Moats, An Unlikely Defender of Civil Unions (Newsday)
  • John Sayles Interview (
  • Guided by Cell Phone (Newsday)
  • Interview with Sherman Alexie (Publishers Weekly)
  • Gay Softball World Series Comes to Dallas (Dallas Observer)
  • Book Editor Tries to Run Away with Carnival (Publishers Weekly)
  • Indies in Paradise: Honolulu's Second Cinema Paradise Film Fest (
  • Appointment with a Reluctant Transsexual (Portfolio)
  • The Sins of the Father (Dallas Observer)